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  • Oriana Skylar Mastro

Networking in a Remote World

COVID sucks. Unfortunately, it looks like we will have to deal with continuing our lives remotely for the foreseeable future. To stay sane, I've been thinking of ways to make the most of a bad situation. Which brings me to…


Of course, networking in person is more fun. BUT this new remote world has broadened the networking opportunities because it's no longer weird to do a video call with someone. And since I had just had a baby in March when things went into lockdown, I wasn't going to be able to travel for a bit anyway. So whether you are working from home for now, always work remotely, or can't travel for a bit for whatever reason (cost, for example), here are some tips on continuing to make connections in the scholarly/think tank/government world while you're stuck at home.

Make at least one connection with every zoom call. I am on zoom a lot – for faculty meetings, working groups, or events where I'm a featured speaker. There is inevitably someone on these calls that I know by name or reputation but have never met. Or an old friend that I haven’t been in contact with for a while. People always schedule these calls with a time buffer on the front and back end – so set something up to video chat before or after events.

Before an event works well, especially if you are both speakers at an event. Just ask them to enter the zoom room a bit early. Sometimes organizers want you to do this anyway, and now you aren't just sitting around for 20 minutes, but you've scheduled in a conversation.

After an event works well, if you don't know the other participants until you are on the call – or maybe you don't know the people very well, catching up beforehand is awkward. I often reach out through the chat function. Depending on your relationship, you may say you want to catch up; or you could comment on a point they've made and say you are interested in discussing further. Set up the meeting for the time your current call is scheduled to end and copy and paste the link in your chat conversation with them. Then they only have to click on the link when your current meeting ends. Easy. And since most people have 15 minutes of dead time between meetings, this is a lot easier than trying to find a different time that works for everyone.

Extra advice if you are more junior: it may be useful to reach out before the meeting. Say you are attending the event and would be interested in chatting with them briefly whenever it ends. If they agree, again, make the meeting and send them the link.

Reach out with a purpose. Many networking tips will tell you to reach out for an “informational interview;” basically to ask for career advice. If you need career advice, great. But I think the best way to establish a relationship is to reach out with a specific, intellectually stimulating purpose. I recently had a new colleague reach out to talk about Taiwan scenarios. What a great way to connect for the first time!

Since I research for a living, it won't come as a surprise that I have been making new contacts based on what I'm researching. If I read an interesting paper, I reach out to the author to set up a time to ask them about their research. When I write anything policy-relevant, I reach out to people in the government and military working on those issues. I get great insight and can expand and maintain my access.

Extra advice if you are more junior: This point is even more important for junior people. I cannot tell you how many people want to talk to me about getting a Ph.D., joining the military, learning Chinese, working at a think tank, or whatever. I always make the time, but I DO NOT REMEMBER MOST OF THESE PEOPLE. You are more likely to make an impression if you are discussing something substantial. And even better if it is useful! In graduate school, I met and interviewed all the top think tank China scholars for a paper I was writing for a class on noninterference. All that insight led to a much better paper (that was even later published), but it was also a great way to introduce myself.

Second, if there is someone you want to talk to, get a professor or former boss to introduce you. I always make time for people when my colleagues ask me, too – I feel like I'm doing them a favor. But make it easy for them – write the email for them in the third person that they can forward “if they feel its appropriate.” For more networking tips, see this blog post.

Be proactive about getting your name out there. One of the benefits of remote work is that no travel is needed! Universities, think tanks, and even congressional committees are looking for people to provide information remotely. If you interact with someone at any institution that holds lectures, events, etc., offer yourself. Explain what you are working on and that you would be happy to guest lecture in their course, speak in their event series, etc.

Finally, use the breakout group function. If you are organizing an event, do breakout groups for people who want to network and meet new people. If you aren’t organizing an event but are hoping to meet people, enter a bit early. This only works if it’s a smaller event that lets people trickle in – not big events when the moderator lets people in all at once.

Do you have any best practices for networking remotely? Send me an email!

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